Where to Find Green Sea Turtles in San Diego

Where to Find Green Sea Turtles in San Diego

Some awesome facts about and how to find our rare friends found right here in La Jolla.

By Trey Leslie I Everyday California Head Writer & Resident DJ

 This shy friend is one of the many fantastic sea creatures cruising around the La Jolla Ecological Preserve. They’re rare to see, which makes finding them even more amazing. This is the Green Sea Turtle - Chelonia mydas.

Turns out it's the only species in the genus Chelonia. They travel throughout the tropical and subtropical seas around the world, with two distinct populations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Fortunate for us, this includes San Diego, and La Jolla is one of their favorite stopping points.

This sea turtle's dorsoventrally flattened (ribbon-like) body is covered by a large, teardrop-shaped carapace, and it has a pair of large, paddle-like flippers. It is usually lightly colored, although in the eastern Pacific populations parts of the upper shell can be almost black.

Unlike other members of its family, such as the hawksbill sea turtle, our Chelonia Mydas is mostly herbivorous. The adults usually inhabit shallow lagoons, feeding mostly on various species of seagrasses.

C. Mydas is listed as endangered by the IUCN and CITES and is protected from exploitation in most countries. It is illegal to collect, harm or kill them. In addition, many countries have laws and ordinances to protect nesting areas. However, turtles are still in danger due to human activity. In some countries, turtles and their eggs are hunted for food. Pollution indirectly harms turtles at both population and individual scales. Many turtles die caught in fishing nets. Also, real estate development often causes habitat loss by eliminating nesting beaches.

Like other sea turtles, green sea turtles migrate long distances between feeding grounds and hatching beaches. Many islands worldwide are known as 'Turtle Islands' due to green sea turtles nesting on their beaches. Females crawl out on beaches, dig nests and lay eggs during the night. Later, hatchlings emerge and scramble into the water. Those that reach maturity may live up to eighty years in the wild.

But how do I find them?

Good question. In our experience, they like like to hang out in the La Jolla Ecological Reserve (our backyard) around the second half of summer and early fall, especially when the water is warm. However, oceanographers have confirmed that the water has been a bit warmer than usual in recent years due to a "marine heatwave," which means that there's almost always a turtle hanging out somewhere around La Jolla's underwater park.

Pretty cool, right? We love our Green Sea Turtles, and we're always looking for them out on the water. If you're feeling lucky, join us on an adventure or stop by the shop and keep your eyes peeled while you're out on the water for our favorite green friends. Or, check out our whale watching kayak tours when the waters colder!

2022 update

There are now at least 4 permanent sea turtle residents in La Jolla! When this blog post was written, the turtles we saw here were mostly visitors from places like the San Diego Bay, where the warmer waters make it easier for them to survive. Now, we are starting to see turtles living in La Jolla Shores year-round.

This is a great sign for conservation efforts. It means that the turtle population in San Diego is rebounding enough that turtles are expanding their habitats and venturing out into new areas.

The cool thing about these new residents is that they seem to be uniquely accustomed to humans. In years past, most people only caught a glimpse of turtles as they swam away as quickly as possible, but the resident turtles are unbothered by people, giving snorkelers amazing chances to observe them more closely.

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